Georgian domestic politics ahead of fall elections

Georgian domestic politics ahead of fall elections

Despite the pandemic, the domestic political life in Georgia is quite dynamic as the country is preparing for the parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall. Political analyst George Mchedlishvili shares his opinion of the political situation in his home country.


Is the ruling Georgian Dream going to emerge as an obvious winner with a landslide victory? Or will it face difficulties?

Until early 2020 the chances of the incumbent Georgian Dream party were not particularly promising. Sluggish economic growth and manifest blunders in governance, along with elements of state capture all boded badly for the ruling party. Of late, the government has largely pinned their hopes on the still greater antipathy towards the United National Movement, the main opposition party, along with its essential satellite European Georgia. Furthermore, the emergence of a new political force that would be able to break this toxic bipolarity was still in question thus slightly enhancing the odds of the Georgian Dream leadership. And then the COVID-19, and the surprisingly efficient way the Georgian authorities handled the pandemic, turned the political tables. By taking swift and decisive actions by early on cancelling the flights from most infected countries and ensuring string quarantine for the arrivals and lockdown for the population, Georgia ended up with near stellar figures of just over 900 infected and 14 dead (as of June 21). One of the keys of Georgia’s successful fight against COVID was that the country's leadership had the wisdom to give the front seat and complete freedom of action to professional epidemiologists and virologists. The government has diligently followed the advice of professional doctors, as well as those of the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research (known popularly as Lugar Laboratory). For many Georgians this efficiency has been a surprise, particularly given the dire situation in the neighboring countries. Needless to say, the government tries to gain political points from this success by taking the bulk of credit, while the opposition is busy downplaying the efficiency of the country leaders and attributing the success to the professionalism of doctors and high consciousness and discipline of the population. 
Far more meaningful question, the one that will have major implication on election results, will be economic recovery. Lockdown, with the attendant decline in domestic economic activity and international trade, and especially tourism, which in recent years has become a very important part of state revenue, will have a very detrimental effect on the economy. Therefore, the electoral chances of the ruling party can be severely affected just in the months immediately before the election.


What is the weight of the (main) opposition parties: are they able to defeat the Georgian Dream individually or as a unified bloc?

Again, a lot will depend on the subsequent months and particularly the economic fortunes, which today are not particularly promising. On the other hand, opposition spectrum is too diverse, consisting of the parties with such irreconcilable views that they brief unity right before the election (as the previous attempts thereof have demonstrated) would come across as disingenuous and therefore would hardly benefit them. With the economy already expected to contract by 5-6% (and there are even more pessimistic scenarios), there is an opening for the opposition parties. The main opposition parties - UNM and European Georgia (EG) - are not very popular, given their very complex legacy of authoritarian rule, especially in recent years in power. This opens up opportunities for new political forces if they succeed in distance themselves from both UNM/EG and GD. There are chances of emergence of such a political force, and the future weeks will probably give an answer to this question.  


In case the opposition is able to secure the win, which political figures may emerge as a leader(s). Moreover, which political leaders have more chances for prime ministership?

If the oppositions wins then most probably the bulk of parliamentary seats, along with the ministerial and PM post will be taken by the United National Movement, unless there emerges a genuinely new political force. There are very candidates for such so far, but this might change. So whether the new cabinet and the prime-ministerial posts will be staffed by UNM or any other political force depends on the formation of the latter. 


What is the influence of Mikheil Saakashvili in domestic politics, among the population and within the opposition?

In Georgia political fortunes of Mikheil Saakashvili are not too promising, but as the case of his confident return onto the firmament of the Ukrainian politics (in a country where his political rating does not exceed a few percent) shows that with the right PR campaign glorifying, and multiplying by a large factor, his achievements, all the while whitewashing negative sides of his presidency, the obstacle of limited public support can be overcome.  In Georgia Saakashvili’s approval and disapproval rates are significantly higher than in Ukraine, with 20-25% of the Georgian population his diehard supporters and roughly 45-50% his vocal detractors. He does exert a significant influence on the domestic politics, and, being a citizen of Ukraine, actively interferes into political life of Georgia. However, a sizeable fraction of the opposition believes his meddling to be on balance a liability.